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Marrowthirst has long been the keeper of the Corpse Orchards. Even before his court grew as far as the Penumbral Vaults, he tended to its writhing populace of dead things. In his madness, he believes himself the regal warden of a great prison, and each corpse a prisoner. With meticulous care, the king’s soldiers bring ‘criminals’ from far and wide, lashing them to their wooded jail. Now, few undead groves can match the majesty of his forests. It is a position that he jealously guards, adding the remains of those who try to free his prisoners to the growing orchard.[1a]

Another of Marrowthirst’s duties is the execution of troublesome prisoners. These corpses are dragged before the king and read their supposed crimes, from larceny to treason, before being hurled from the rock upon which Voldyr Keep is founded. To maintain order, the remaining prisoners are then formally warned of the penalty imposed on these unfortunates, whose fate is to plunge eternally through the dark.[1a]


The Corpse Orchards

Even by the grim standards of Shyish, the ruined kingdom of Voldyr was a disturbing region. Yurvash the Gallowsward, a Lord-Celestant of the Anvils of the Heldenhammer, led the way. From the Gloomdream Vales, the three hundred Heldenhammer warriors marched, fighting their way through the spire-tombs of the deathrattler queens to reach Voldyr and claim its fabled Gate of Corpses. It was a sacred mission to capture another of the Realmgates between Azyr and Shyish, a quest Yurvash bore as if the eyes of the God-King were upon his every step. As the Stormcasts pressed deeper into the strange woodlands surrounding the gate, they felt a deathly chill descend upon them. Once dead themselves, Yurvash and his warriors remembered all too well the cold embrace of the underworld. It clung to the trees, each as high as fortress towers, their branches thick with hundreds of swaying cadavers. Mailed fists tightened on sigmarite hammers, and black helms turned to watch the darkness, ready for whatever this place might throw at them.[1a]

Several miles away, the ruins of Voldyr Keep rose from the Corpse Orchards like a broken finger of bone. In its central courtyard there stood the Gate of Corpses, an arch of writhing human remains, forever moaning into the night. Before the gate, the abhorrant Marrowthirst was holding court when one of his Crypt Infernals soared down to inform him of the invasion of his realm. With a hiss of annoyance that sent his sycophants scurrying for the shadows, the abhorrant ordered his Marquis Retchbile to gather the troops. Marrowthirst would teach these intruders the folly of their ways.[1a]

Out in the woodlands, the Anvils of the Heldenhammer had reached the edge of the Corpse Orchards. From the trees,dismembered limbs and half-corpses reached hungrily for the Stormcasts orpleaded for the mercy of true death. Ignoring the rotting hands pawing at their armour, Yurvash and his Warrior Chamber pressed on. Then the ground began to shake.[1a]

The King’s Ghouls had the honour of being the first into the fray, their ghast lord leading the charge. In their minds, they let out a heroic cheer and raised their banners before thundering through the shimmering summer woodlands. What Yurvash saw, however, was a very different sight. The Lord-Celestant recoiled in horror at the sight of thousands of misshapen creatures bursting out of the undergrowth, their animalistic hisses loud enough to drown out speech and quieten the swaying corpses. Like insects shaken from a disturbed nest, a thousand mordants flooded across the ground, their claws tearing at the earth in their eagerness to attack.Yurvash quickly recovered from his shock, ordering his Liberators to form a defensive circle. Behind this wall of black shields, Judicators levelled their massive crossbows, sending volleys of bolts slamming into the enemy ranks.[1b]

Though scores of pale bodies tumbled into the dirt, hundreds more piled over their twitching remains to slam into the Stormcasts. Stoic and cold, the Anvils of the Heldenhammer held their ground. For every Liberator pulled down beneath filthy claws, scores of mordants died, their bald heads and cadaverous bodies smashed apart by thunderous hammer blows.[1b]

Dark shapes suddenly loomed above the Stormcasts as Crypt Flayers swooped low over the savage combat. The massive beasts dived down into the Stormcasts. The Flayers’ eyes alight with madness, they plucked Liberators from the line and tore them apart in flashes of lighting. Prosecutors took to the air, their shimmering wings casting ghostly shadows across the haunted wood. With crackling hammers they struck the flying horrors, the two sides spiralling in deadly aerial duels.[1b]

From Voldyr Keep, Marrowthirst followed the battle with his keen eyes. So far, the newcomers had repulsed the Lord Liverbelch’s foot and cavalry formations, though the mordants had them nicely pinned. It was time to send in the Royal Mordants to break them. Scores of his most elite warriors charged from the keep at the snarled commands of the Marquis Gruelsop.[1b]

Yurvash knew that to stand his ground against this fresh wave of enemies was to die. With a mighty war cry, the Lord-Celestant led his warriors in a bid for freedom, sallying out of the encirclement as they pressed on through the mordants. At that moment, before the new wave of horrors could strike, Yurvash’s Lord-Relictor appeared at his side. The priest motioned to a clearing in the woods, a bare hillock which might afford them a defensible position.[1b]

Fighting a desperate battle through the grasping trees, the Anvils of the Heldenhammer hacked a path toward the clearing. In the darkened sky above, the Deadwatch ripped into the Prosecutors, and the Stormcasts were flung broken to the ground to vanish in eye-searing flashes. Crackling crossbow bolts from the Judicators covered the Stormcast host as they forged through the sea of mordants, each deadly missile ripping pallid flesh to ruin. As the rolling battle raged, more mordants joined the fray. Stormcasts flickered and vanished into the heavens, while a road of pale, broken bodies lay in their wake. Thrice did the Deadwatch try to break Yurvash’s formation, but each time volleys of bolts, and lightning from the Lord-Relictor, repelled them.[1c]

Lopping the head from a snarling Crypt Horror, Yurvash arrived at the clearing, charging to the top of the hillock and rallying his warriors around him. Strangely, the assault slackened. Even the winged monsters swooped away, leaving the black-armoured Stormcasts gasping for breath and wondering from whence their reprieve had come. They did not have to wonder for long.[1c]

A ghastly sound made Yurvash start, and he turned to see the Abhorrant Ghoul King atop his Terrorgheist uncoiling from a tree on the edge of the clearing. The vampire was laughing at him. With one long talon, Marrowthirst pointed to the Lord-Celestant, the challenge unmistakable. Ignoring the warning glance from his Lord-Relictor, Yurvash strode forward, sword and hammer held ready to strike. At that same moment, the Royal Mordants burst from the trees and into the Stormcasts. Cut off from his warriors, Yurvash fought for his life. Marrowthirst’s talons scored lines down his armour, while Yurvash swung thunderous blows in return. Then, Yurvash drove his sword through the Terrorgheist’s skull and lunged under Marrowthirst’s guard. Impossibly swift, the king leaned in, and Yurvash caught a glimpse of Marrowthirst’s madness. A lord in shining armour looked down at him, his cold eyes promising death.The second’s distraction was all it took. The abhorrant impaled his enemy and Yurvash turned to lightning, joining his warriors once more in death.[1c]